Although Alberto Giacometti is most often remembered for his towering statues and landscape paintings, the artist began every new project with a sketch. Preferring either a ballpoint pen or pencil, he referred to the act of drawing as the “basis” for all of his artworks.
In Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure—the extensive retrospective which shares its name with the ongoing special exhibition at SAM and is available for purchase at SAM Shop—contributing writer Catherine Grenier writes of Giacometti: “The numerous drawings he made of the same motif show the simplification he carried out in his sculptures… In many of them, the natural movement, the inclination of the body, the folding of the leg show that they are drawings made while looking at scenes in the street” (33).
Guided by SAM Museum Educator Lauren Kent, this audio recording from SAM’s smartphone tour Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure guides visitors in a close-looking activity at one of Giacometti’s sketches, Head of a Man in Profile. Visit SAM’s downtown location through Sunday, October 9 to experience Toward the Ultimate Figure and listen to all seven stops in the audio tour.
Head of a Man in Profile, ca. 1959
NARRATOR: Giacometti once said that ‘drawing is the basis for everything’. Here’s SAM educator Lauren Kent on Head of a Man, a lively portrait in ballpoint pen.
MUSEUM EDUCATOR LAUREN KENT: Take a moment to stand in front of this drawing and take it in with your eyes. Zoom in to notice the details of the lines and marks on the paper. Let yourself get lost in these details. Then, zoom out to notice how it all comes together. Take out your finger to draw in the air. Find a starting point and trace the path of the lines that you see. Experiment with moving very slowly, like an ant walking along its path (voice slows down). Now, speed up and move quickly, chasing everywhere Giacometti drew with his ballpoint pen.
What shapes, angles, and movements does your finger make? Which areas do you return to and repeat over and over again? Which areas don’t you touch at all?
How do you think Giacometti was feeling when he made this drawing? What was the energy in the studio like? Do you think that he knew this model? What do you see that makes you say that?
The first time I came to the Seattle Art Museum was in 2020. I was just starting my Master’s program at the University of Washington and I was missing home more than ever before. The first time I walked through Cosmic Beings in Mesoamerican and Andean Art, I was looking for home. That searching is what guided me to apply for the Emerging Arts Leader Internship—I wanted to help to create a bit of home for myself and other Latin Americans when they visit the Seattle Art Museum.
From the very start of my internship, I knew I wanted to bring contemporary art and music into the space to reinvigorate the gallery. Ancient art often feels far away from contemporary life, particularly for those from a diverse community that has lived through several colonizations, displacements, and major transformations.
One of the biggest questions I had in starting this internship was scale—how much could I reasonably do over two months? Having worked in museums and non-profits now for over 7 years I know how important this question is. I had and continue to have a lot of ideas for the space, but I am very conscious of being one person that can only do so much. The initial part of my internship was spent getting to know the Seattle Art Museum and dreaming up what can be done, what has been done, and what is possible.
Eventually, and with a lot of help from my supervisors Pam McClusky, Barbara Brotherton, and Ramzy Lakos, we scaled my project to focus on one artwork in Cosmic Beings in Mesoamerican and Andean Art. I chose a Mayan work,Relief Panels (Door Reveals) (ca. AD 550-950), because it is positioned at the center of the exhibition. Originally being a lintel (a horizontal support in a doorway), it would have been one of the first artworks someone would have seen when entering a palace or temple. Around this one work, I developed a smartphone tour, a verbal description, an in-gallery presentation, a new wall label, and educational resources for the piece.It was important to me to create and explore a variety of different ways for visitors and staff and to connect with the work and show how ancient artworks can be activated.
An important part of developing this interpretive content for Relief Panels (Door Reveals) was consulting with other experts. Mary Miller, Meghan Rubenstein, and Virginia Miller were invaluable in the help and enthusiasm they provided. For the smartphone tour’s music, I brought in Juan Francisco Cristobal, my friend, former colleague, and Q’anjob’al Maya UCLA Ethnomusicology doctoral candidate. I also selected two paintings from the Arte Maya Tz’utuhil collection, available online as part of the Latin American Cultural Center’s Maya Spirituality: Indigenous Paintings 1957–2020exhibition.
Another key part of my research was conducting an expansive review of work in the Northern Maya area during the Late Classic Period in topics varying from architecture to ethnobotany. There were a lot of moving parts in this project and learning how to balance everything was an interesting challenge that I would not have been able to do without the support of SAM staff.
The opportunity to engage with an artwork that is a part of my heritage has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my internship. Hope, pride, identity, memory, and healing are just a few words that come up for me; they are integral ideas that underlie everything I created. I hope that I made my community and family proud, and that the content I developed for Relief Panels (Door Reveals) can serve as a bridge to inspire all of SAM’s visitors. I hope everyone visits Cosmic Beings and spends time with its art, engages with the smartphone tour, and considers how the art connects to the thriving Latin American community today.
– Lena Ishel Rodriguez, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern
In July, the Seattle arts community lost an influential leader, dedicated arts advocate, and SAM Honorary Trustee, Thomas Walker Barwick (1929–2022). For almost 50 years, Tom was a generous supporter within the SAM family, joining as a member in the 1970s and serving as a Trustee since 1992. From his leadership in founding SAM’s American art program to his continuous wise counsel, Tom’s unshakable commitment transformed SAM into the institution it is today.
As a prominent collector in American art, Tom approached his collection with a scholarly passion and an instinct for the extraordinary. Alongside his late wife Ann, he spent half a century acquiring seminal works from 19th and early 20th century American artists. Together, the Barwicks were a pioneering force, always eager and determined to connect Seattle and SAM with great art.
Tom was instrumental in the acquisition of some of SAM’s most iconic American works, including Raphaelle Peale’s Still Life with Strawberries and Ostrich Egg Cup and Albert Bierstadt’s stunning landscape Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast. In 2007, Tom solidified American art’s legacy at SAM for years to come by endowing the program’s curatorship as the Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art.
“Tom’s passion for and dedication to American art was a driving force behind the formation of SAM’s American art program,” said Theresa Papanikolas, SAM Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art. “He had a remarkable ability to connect people with the artists he loved. His eye for quality and significance was keen, and his personal art collection is exquisite. Tom was a great friend to the museum, and his legacy lives on in our continued commitment to American art.”
With endless enthusiasm and remarkable generosity, Tom uplifted our community with the art that inspired him. We are forever grateful.
In 1958, Alberto Giacometti was invited to compete for a public artwork for the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Envisioning three outdoor sculptures including a Large Head, a Tall Woman, and a Walking Man, Giacometti set out to make them in plaster. After a year of several attempts—three versions of Walking Man, four of Tall Woman, and two of Large Head—Giacometti abandoned the commission due to his dissatisfaction with the results.
Discussing the abandoned project, Giacometti was quoted as saying, “I can see they are a failure, or rather, not fully achieved—they are all wide off the mark in a big way.” Despite the artist’s self-assessment, the sculptures were soon celebrated as some of his most iconic works.
In SAM’s ongoing exhibition, Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, Giacometti’s initial vision for the plaza is recreated with Walking Man I, Tall Woman IV, and the addition of Dog (Le Chien) (1951).In this audio recording, SAM Educator Yaoyao Liu guides visitors through a close-looking exercise of the two towering artworks Giacometti envisioned for the Chase Manhattan Plaza. Listen to all seven stops of the smartphone tour when you visit Toward the Ultimate Figure at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.
Walking Man I (1960) & Tall Woman IV(1960)
NARRATOR: Commissioned together in 1958, Walking Man I and Tall Woman IV were intended as outdoor sculptures for New York City’s Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza. Though the sculptures were never delivered, this initial context can help us think about how they relate to one another. Here’s SAM Educator Yaoyao Liu to guide you in a close looking exercise.
YAOYAO LIU: In the gallery, take time to move slowly around each sculpture, taking in details such as color, texture, and form. Then move back and view the two sculptures as a pair. What did you notice looking up close at each one, then seeing both at the same time? Where do you see connections between these two sculptures? And where do you see differences?
“Both are artists of world renown who have meticulously told stories of Black people, Black history, and Black subjectivity in the United States since their careers began back in the 1970s. And, on top of it all, they are friends.”
ICYMI: The Seattle Times’ Vonnai Phair spotlighted Legendary Children, the celebration of queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities held this past Friday, September 23, for which SAM is a partner. And Alex Garland captured its beauty for South Seattle Emerald. It’s back to an annual event, so start planning your outfit for next year’s celebration now!
Seattle news from New Haven: Seattle-artist Barbara Earl Thomas recently unveiled stunning new stained glass windows she created for Yale University residential building Grace Hopper College. The story includes a link to an artists’ conversation about the project.
“‘I think it’s such a fascinating story,’ Martin said. He also appreciated collecting in an area where there wasn’t a huge amount of established scholarship. ‘It’s fun to have something to study, to try to understand, to apply your critical eye to without any outside pressure,’ he added. ‘There’s not a lot of promotion about [these] artists. You just have to find it out yourself.’”
Welcome to Noticed, in which we spot connections among, within, and without the walls of the museum.
The last few years in Seattle, it’s been the talk of gardeners, naturalists, parkgoers, and urban dog walkers alike: What’s up with all these rabbits everywhere?
That question was also the headline of a recent feature in the Seattle Times’ Pacific NW Magazine, in which reporter Brendan Kiley investigated the seeming population boom across Western Washington of the Sylvilagus floridanus, or Eastern cottontail rabbit. His journey brought him to the domain of one very special rabbit: King Bunny.
That’s the name given by SAM staff to a particularly large, healthy, and seemingly prolific rabbit who resides in the Olympic Sculpture Park with his many friends and offspring. Kiley spoke with SAM’s Facilities and Landscapes Manager, Bobby McCullough, about King Bunny and Co.’s frolics around the nine-acre sculpture park, where they chomp on grass and clover, attempt to avoid predators and excited leashed dogs, and, we hope, enjoy the monumental sculptures that fill their home. King Bunny can be tough to spot, so don’t miss SAM’s latest installment of “Botany with Bobby,” our TikTok series exploring the sculpture park, in which Bobby tracks his friend down for all of us to see. McCullough also shared his perspective on what to do—if anything—about their increased presence.
“The park’s S. floridanus population has spiked in the past three or so years, McCullough says, and bunny-noticers have divergent attitudes. Some feel protective, calling for a gardener to ‘Do something!’ if they find a rabbit half-chewed by a raptor. Others regard the critters as a problem, suggesting McCullough set out traps and poison bait. ‘As long as I’m working here, that won’t happen,’ he says. ‘I get more joy from seeing them sunning themselves on the grass than frustration at chewed-down fern fronds.’”
McCullough’s live-and-let-live approach to the rabbits must have had an effect, because once we started seeing bunnies around the sculpture park, we noticed that they were simply…everywhere. Back indoors at the Seattle Art Museum, local artist Anthony White celebrates his Betty Bowen Award win with his solo exhibition, Limited Liability. The artist is known for his densely packed compositions that he painstakingly “paints” with PLA (a melted biodegradable plastic, primarily used for 3D printing). Crammed with recognizable products, name-brand logos, and digital logos, they pull you down the rabbit hole of our increasingly intertwined analog and digital lives. They’re also a few literal rabbits dotting these Y2K-nostalgia landscapes: a self-portrait of the artist in the all-too-familiar pose of gazing at a smartphone screen in bed includes a number of bunnies hopping around his aura like phantoms; up above is a ransom-note scrawl saying, “SILLY RABBIT, YOUR IPHONE STORAGE IS FULL.” And the smallest painting in the exhibition hangs above them all at the entrance like an idol: An Energizer Bunny seen behind a cracked cell phone screen, questioning the relentless pursuits of capitalism.
Of course, bunnies aren’t always harbingers of doom. Kiley’s story also notes the diverse cultural meanings of rabbits: “Old stories characterize the rabbit as arrogant (Greece), cowardly (Tibet), a great warrior (China), tricky (lots of places) and prototypical prey (lots of other places).” He notes their association with fertility in early Christian Europe and their appearance as a resilient “catch-me-if-you-can” figure in Puget Sound stories of Snoqualmie, Puyallup, Muckleshoot and other traditions. SAM’s global collection is a veritable rabbit hunt; one work on view right now at the Seattle Asian Art Museum is a beloved late 19th-century Japanese netsuke of an ivory hare (we know, it’s technically a different species, just go with it) with real amber eyes. Barely an inch all around, it’s a noticeably smaller presence than King Bunny, and it’s not as difficult to spot as it’s protected in a glass case, but in its tiny form and glittering eyes it makes a charming and surprisingly powerful impact. We think it’s wise to keep a close eye… just in case.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
Images: Installation view of HYPNOSIS (detail) as part of Anthony White: Limited Liability at the Seattle Art Museum, 2022, Photo: Alborz Kamalizad. Netsuke modeled as a hare with amber eyes, Japanese, late 19th century, ivory, amber, 1 1/16 x 7/8 x 1 1/8 in., Duncan MacTavish Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.438, Photo: Elizabeth Mann.
“…explores their overlapping efforts to reflect the experience of Black people and issues around systems of power.”
“What connects their work, besides a friendship and a medium, is a shared timeframe and understanding of the power of photography as a way to explore — and celebrate — the experiences of Black people.”
Puget Sound Business Journal is out with their “40 Under 40” list, and Chef Shubert Ho is on it! His Feedme Hospitality & Restaurant Group includes MARKET Seattle at SAM, bringing lobster rolls and other seafood offerings that can only be described as high art. Congrats, Shubert!
Grace Gorenflo and photographer Daniel Kim of the Seattle Times were there to document the recent opening of Arté Noir, a nonprofit focused on uplifting Black arts and culture founded by Vivian Phillips and directed by Jazmyn Scott.
“We are still working to recover from the effects of the closures and attendance numbers alone don’t tell the whole story,” said Seattle Art Museum director and CEO Amada Cruz. “The bigger question we are asking is: Who is being served by, represented in and engaged with the museum and its mission? And who is not?”
The New York Times recently delivered its fall arts preview, including a feature by Jason Farago on blockbusters and Will Heinrich’s list of exhibitions to see across the country.
Hiding within the busy city streets of Pioneer Square sits an intimate artist’s studio unlike any other. In this small, square room, SAM 2021 Betty Bowen Award winner Anthony White creates mesmerizing paintings crammed with products, name brand logos, and digital icons that assess our increasingly intertwined analog and digital lives.
“It’s my happy place,” says White. “It’s nice to have a space that’s reserved only for creating art.”
White spends most of his days in this space. It’s quiet and personal, with an ever-rotating array of his creations adorning the walls. It’s here that many of his completed artworks sit before they’re delivered to their next—or final—destinations. In the back corner sits a small desk, a focused space where White first sketches his paintings. Pink, brown, blue, green, purple, yellow, and more, endless rolls of polylactic acid—White’s medium of choice and the same material used in the 3D printing process—occupy the other corner, adding a pop of color to the room. A black leather couch hides next to the door, a place for guests to sit, talk, model.
“I don’t have many guests,” says White. “It’s only when I’m collaborating with someone or asking a friend to model that someone else is in here with me. Otherwise, it’s just me and my art.”
Where White spends the most of his time, however, is in the center of the room. With an unfinished canvas sitting on a sawhorse, it’s here that White paints. With his headphones in, White will work anywhere from eight to 10 hours a day. Circling the canvas, he is precise and careful with each line of polylactic acid he paints.
From his studio to museum walls, experience Anthony White’s breathtaking artwork on view in Anthony White: Limited Liabilityat SAM’s downtown location through January 29, 2023. Meet the artist and hear from him in SAM’s galleries on Thursday, September 15 at 6:30 pm as we celebrate the opening of White’s first solo exhibition at SAM. There’ll be a public reception in the Susan Brotman Forum with a bar and music by Seattle’s own DJ Housepartysea. Reserve your tickets to this free event—space is filling up fast!
In Alberto Giacometti’s never-ending pursuit of a new vision of the human form, the artist often turned to nature for inspiration. Many of his early artworks—most notably in his paintings and sketches—focused on the dynamic landscapes of his upbringing in Stampa, Switzerland. This motif remained as his career progressed, yet his exploration with nature and man’s relationship to it was explored in new ways.
With its tiny head perched on an oversized mound, of which only the figure’s arms can be identified, Man with a Windbreaker (1953) is one of Giacometti’s sculptures which best demonstrates his evolving relationship to nature. While he experimented with scale, texture, and perspective in nearly all of his artworks during this artistic period, this sculpture stands out for its evocation of a geological concretion, with some scholars going so far as to call it a stalagmite.
In this audio recording, SAM Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama discusses Man with a Windbreaker, comparing the rough texture of the mound to a “rocky mountainside.” Tune in to this, and seven other audio recordings which accompany artworks on view in Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, when you visit the exhibition at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.
Man with a Windbreaker, 1953
NARRATOR: Giacometti’s experimentations with scale and texture come to the fore in Man with a Windbreaker. Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama:
ERIKA KATAYAMA: At this point in his career, Giacometti is constantly manipulating perspective and scale as a means for him to capture his vision of the human figure. Notice the dramatic contrast of proportion in this sculpture. The tiny head sits atop a large, almost mountainous body. The rough texture of his clothes reminds me of a rocky mountainside. As a viewer, this gives us the illusion that the body of the man is close to us, looming large, whereas the tiny head is far away.
VOICE OF GIACOMETTI: For me, any deformation is entirely involuntary. I simply try to recreate what I see. My struggle is to grasp and possess an appearance that constantly escapes me. I try to express what I see, but unfortunately I never manage to make something that truly resembles it.
SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2022–23 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, with nine talks by leading scholars exploring the social power of architecture. Renée Cheng, Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington and a catalyst for advocating diversity and inclusion in the field, kicks off the series on Saturday, September 10 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum with a discussion of cultural identities and their expression in the built environment. Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum, spoke with Cheng about her background, why equity matters in architecture, and how architecture can respond to ecological concerns.
“Space and culture are interconnected—they shape and reflect one another. When we understand the cultural messages conveyed via sacred architecture, we become aware of how those messages are heard differently depending on cultural identity.”
– Dr. Renée Cheng
Haley Ha: Tell us about your background. How did you first become interested in architecture?
Dr. Renée Cheng: I grew up in the Midwest—the daughter of a painter and an engineer—and in so many ways architecture is something of a combination of the two. I always enjoyed making things when I was a child. I did a lot of painting and sculpture, but it was messy stuff. It wasn’t like a kit of Lincoln Logs or Legos; it was clay and paint and messy things that were much more open-ended in what they would lead to. So I wouldn’t say that it was a straight line to architecture by any means. I actually considered medicine at one point, but I grew into really understanding my passion for making things and making beautiful things.
Later, I started realizing that it had to do with spaces, not objects, and my focus shifted over time to be increasingly oriented towards people and the collaborative ways that you have to work to build buildings. I became more interested in the interaction between people aligning around shared goals for occupied spaces and the use of space and places.
Ha: How would you describe your work and research to someone who has never heard of the ideas you explore?
Dr. Cheng: I am an architect and I maintain my license, but I don’t build buildings. I don’t design buildings. I teach those that will be building buildings. I also study the field itself and look at ways that it could be more innovative and beneficial to more people. There’s a lot of the stereotype of an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright in a cape, working for wealthy clients, or even, you know, primarily working for a limited number of people. I am really trying to promote an idea of architecture that positively affects more people, the idea that a well-placed window to a view or a sequence of spaces that allow you to be part of a group ceremony can elevate the spirit. It’s something that an individual might be able to do, but working together with others, really understanding the different points of view that go into making a space that works for more than one person, creating a space that’s large, larger than what one person can build is really what I what I look at in in my work.
It was not a practice in the same way that an architect would practice in an office, where there are buildings that you can show and point to and say we did that; but it’s more of a development of programs and looking at ways that the entire discipline and profession can change. My work has been primarily US-based, but I look at a lot of international examples, often in terms of the way they incorporate new technologies or legal structures of financing that allow for different ways of working. So it encompasses more than just the practice of architecture itself.
Ha: You’re an advocate for diversity and equitable practices in the field of architecture and built environments. Can you briefly describe built environments in both research and practice? And what role does diversity, equity, and inclusion play in it?
Dr. Cheng: Built environments really include all of the areas that are not natural, that are actively built by shaping of land and the infrastructure. It includes smaller-scale spaces, rooms like where you woke up this morning, with a particular light condition and orientation, or the transit you use for shopping or working. The room that you were in, the living structure, the transit, the infrastructure were all planned. It’s part of a city that was planned.
Volunteer Park was planned and laid out in certain ways to emphasize or enhance certain aspects through the choice of what to plant. Some of it might have been growing here and preserved, and others might have been added. So there’s all those aspects of what makes up our built environment. They were all planned, designed, and executed. Someone had to figure out how to pay for it, had to logistically make it happen, and get all of the permissions to make sure that it would work and function in the way that it was intended.
So, what role does diversity, equity, and inclusion play, when you think of that broad definition of built environments? Historically those designers were hired by a small group of people, often very wealthy, and the input was usually fairly limited. And so in the end you ended up with some really beautiful spaces and places for sure, but also certain decisions that really negatively impact communities—often communities of color—whether it was in the placement of highways or the general economic investment in affordable housing. You had a lot of communities that were left out and negatively impacted by architecture. And so what I have worked for is to find ways to include more voices, to include more factors. When we consider what is good design and to find ways that we can accomplish them effectively, not only economically but with sustainable and good practices.
Ha: In the past, architecture has been viewed as a male-dominated field. As an Asian American architect and a woman of color, what challenges have you faced in the field?
Dr. Cheng: There is a definite stereotype of architecture as a male-dominated field and definitely the dominant culture is white males; if you look across the leaders and award winners, they tend to be white men, especially in America. In my experience as a Asian American architect, I’m the first woman dean of the college. I’m the first person of color. But I’ve also been the first or often the only designer or practicing architect in a group of academics, academic architects, or woman in a very dominant technology-related field. So, quite often these are even more white male dominated than the general population of architects. I’ve definitely experienced being the only woman in the room. This can have some positives in that you get noticed, and some negatives in that you get scrutinized, or you sometimes feel like you’re speaking for an entire group and can be tokenized.
I’ve been committed to increasing the number of women in architecture in particular since I was in school. I had an experience when I was in graduate school, where our class was composed of about 30% women who went on to do amazing things like become firm leaders, these women were just really incredible. And there was a time in our graduate studies where there were no women faculty on a fairly large faculty group. And we talked to the dean about this, and his response was: there were no qualified women to hire for teaching, and that statement was so shocking to me, and made me renew a commitment that I think I hadn’t articulated before then to change that by setting up systems and programs that mentor and initiate faster pathways through the education and the professions for women and other identities that were underrepresented in the field.
A lot of the work that I do is centered on the experience I had in graduate school, of feeling like there’s got to be another way. It’s not that there were no qualified women. It’s that they were not easy to find, or that they weren’t retained, promoted, and made visible. Because I knew that my female classmates had a lot to offer. We were probably losing a lot of amazing input as well by not having the role models to help us succeed in our field.
Ha: What are some of the biggest challenges for ecological issues of our time, and how can architecture play a role in solutions?
Dr. Cheng: Worldwide, buildings are forty percent of the energy consumption and they can make up eighty percent of what goes to our landfills through construction and demolition processes. You can say that you know buildings and cities bear a disproportionate share of energy consumption, and also they have a disproportionate responsibility of being a solution to the problem.
Let’s use embodied carbon, for example: the carbon that is used while you produce a building, maintain a building, and disassemble a building. It’s actually a more sophisticated way of thinking, not just of the cost of your electric bill for your air conditioning. Or consider a materials decision, and how much transportation it takes to transport this piece of wood from a place that maybe doesn’t have natural forests. Would concrete be a more economic, ecologically, and carbon-reducing choice? So, it gets pretty complicated, pretty fast, but the overall impact of the development on sustainability and climate is really pretty clear. Architects, building contractors, real estate developers, and landscape architects, we all bear a disproportionate responsibility for climate solutions, because the product of our work bears a disproportionate share of the energy consumption.
Ha: This Saturday University lecture series is focused on sacred spaces in urban settings; I’m interested in the collaborative work between UW’s College of Built Environments and the Nehemiah Initiative for faith-based congregations and the communities they serve in the Central District. It seems to have been vital for these places to survive the socioeconomic challenges in the historically black neighborhood. Can you tell us more about this collaborative effort and how this initiative played a role?
Dr. Cheng: This project is a multi-year commitment to the Nehemiah Initiative, which is a group of Black churches in the Central District of Seattle who are working together to promote their beloved community. Our college hosts a series of studio classes where students work with church leaders and community members to study the potential for church property to be developed in ways that provide housing and community spaces that can support the Black community.
We have an interdisciplinary team of faculty and I teach about the intercultural aspects of working across differences. The differences that I focus on for the class include disciplinary differences in how an urban planning student and a real estate student might think about the best use of the land. It also includes how our students can work with a Black faith-based community while bringing in their own experiences and expertise in respectful and effective ways.
– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum
Photo: Renée Cheng, dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington. Image courtesy of Sean Airhart, NBBJ.
In short, Seattle is back, but not all the way…But the city’s defining cultural institutions remain healthy, new restaurants and coffee places are popping up all over town, and the communities ringing the center are more vibrant than ever.”
“It’s a knockout show, with bold, tech-enhanced, multimedia works playing off traditional images and themes. And it’s also a fitting symbol of Seattle in the aftermath of the pandemic.”
Lonely Planet writes up “the 8 best museums in Seattle for a rainy day”; all three SAM locations get a mention, even the outdoor space of the Olympic Sculpture Park. You know what they say: no such things as bad weather, only bad clothing!
Qina Liu for the Seattle Times on the opening of Loving Books, a Black-owned bookstore in the Central District, which curator Kristina Clark long envisioned as a “safe place where Black children could be Black children — where Black children could fully belong.”
“Oppenheim’s inventive, shape-shifting works are difficult to classify. Unexpected combinations of materials, like fungus, buttons, and dried pasta with wood, stone, and clay, speak to her sense of imagination and experimentation. Nature and transformation are at the core of many pieces, but her message to viewers is ultimately open ended.”
In both his paintings and sculptures, Alberto Giacometti used the architectural device of a cage to surround and outline specific constraints for his artistic vision. While Giacometti used a physical frame to demarcate the borders of his paintings, in his sculptures, the artist built physical cages in which to constrain his artworks. First utilized in Cage (1930–31) and Suspended Ball (1930–31), Giacometti returned to the idea of the enclosure as a framing device nearly twenty years later as he began to think more deeply about the self-referential interior of the sculpture compared to its surroundings.
The Cage, First Version is reminiscent of a display case. The upper portion presents a figure and a bast as if laid out in a vitrine. The standing figure is not proportional to the considerably larger head, thus disrupting a reading of these figures within a conventional perspectival space. Placed at the outer edge, the standing figure holds on to the armature that marks the perimeter, looking out beyond. The cage, just as the figures themselves, are composed of the same nubby bronze texture that Giacometti is often recognized for.
Listen to the audio recording above to hear SAM Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama discuss Giacometti’s continuous use of cages, frames, and proportionality throughout his artistic career. All eight audio recordings—produced by the Seattle Art Museum as part of the free smartphone tour of Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure—can be found by scanning the QR codes accompanying selected artworks on view in the exhibition through October 9.
The Cage, First Version, 1949–50
NARRATOR: Giacometti uses cages and frames as a way to further explore the relationship between the viewer and the object, the sculpture and its surroundings. Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama:
ERIKA KATAYAMA: The cage functions both symbolically and psychologically in this work, forming a space which encloses the subjects within. And as a viewer, we see the standing figure and the oversized head, which are not in correct proportion to each other, yet they both exist within the bounds of the cage—and so we have to consider them in relation to one another.
NARRATOR: How does the cage shape how you view this piece? Try imagining it without the cage, what changes?
In the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, artist James Ellingboe has built a beautiful artist studio in his garage. The studio is filled with a wide array of machines and tools, custom-built to create sculptures inspired by math, science, and the natural world from a variety of materials.
Ellingboe has always built things, initially starting with found materials. He learned to weld during high school and created his first metal sculpture in 2004. He now commonly works with mild steel, stainless steel, bronze, and wood, and just recently began creating artworks with clay. He is constantly seeking new ways to manipulate materials in order to give form to his ideas.
Ellingboe’s sculptures explore botanical and scientific themes, often relating to cellular structures and cellular organisms. Examples of this can be seen in the sculptures in his Diatom series. The rounded sculptures in this series are a geometric manipulation of an abstracted form inspired by single-celled organisms called diatoms. The large-scale sculptures from this series are unique, while the smaller-scale sculptures are created in a limited edition of five works and sold at SAM Gallery.
Another series of artworks, titled Fractals, is created from the repetition and manipulation of a simple shape to describe the space inspired by molecular geometries. An artwork from this series, Emergence, is inspired by perennial plants breaking dormancy. The green leaves of the plant are formed by repeated triangles, reaching upwards. He creates artworks like Emergence as a unique monumental sculpture at seventeen feet tall, as well as a limited edition of five smaller sculptures standing at eight and a half inches tall. Another artwork from this series, Nebula, is inspired by nebulous cloud formations in space. Blue triangles are repeated to echo the giant clouds of dust and gas. The large-scale sculpture is fifty-two inches tall, while the limited edition smaller-scale works stand small at thirteen inches tall.
Added in January 2022, James Ellingboe is one of the most recent additions to SAM Gallery’s artist roster. His large-scale and small-scale sculptures will be featured at SAM Gallery this October alongside artworks by Harold Hollingsworth. See his artwork on view at SAM Gallery in the coming months or browse his SAM artist page to get a sneak peek at what’s to come.
“The immersive, multimedia exhibition is small—a casual viewer could survey the handful of pieces in minutes—but it’s one that rewards a more thoughtful approach, revealing new layers and details the longer you look. Each artist relates classical forms with timely themes, addressing topics from street protest to quarantine.”
Lonely Planet’s “8 best beaches in Washington State” includes the pocket beach at the Olympic Sculpture Park, noting that “at low tide, you (and the kids) can explore tidepools brimming with marine life, from sea stars to chitons, all within view of the Space Needle.”
SAM Remix: The clouds didn’t keep you beautiful people away! We were thrilled to bring back the late-night art experience to the Olympic Sculpture Park last Friday–and thrilled for the shoutouts from The Stranger, The Ticket (new site alert!), Seattle Met, and Seattle Times.
“What’s delightful about the piece is that even though the garden of PNW plants is virtual, it still grounds me in reality. Vichayapai’s personal rendition of Seattle’s summer made me think about the foliage and smells and textures I associate with the season.”
“Mr. Kulzer, an art teacher at Eden Valley-Watkins High School who specializes in sculpture, spent two years shadowing Ms. Christensen in order to learn the intricacies of working with cold butter, which is harder to manipulate than the soft-water-based clay he’s accustomed to…Teaching is the second-best job in the world, he said. ‘The first is carving butter heads.’”
“There’s no such thing as spending too much time in a museum. But as much time as you spend walking between artworks, pausing to absorb the work or read the accompanying text, you’ll never see a museum’s art quite the way those who regularly work around it do.”
This week’s SAM Object of the Week was written by University of Washington student Ji In following a presentation given by SAM Assistant Curator of South Asian Art Natalia Di Pietrantonio to the class “Gender and the Hindu Goddess” in the spring of 2022. This essay has been edited from its original form by SAM staff for brevity but the overall content remains the same.
Painted in 1986 by Baua Devi, Kali, as the title explains, is a portrait of the Hindu goddess Kālī. Most recently on view in Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Timeat the Seattle Asian Art Museum, this artifact is a medium sized painting made on paper with ink and color. This essay will explore the format and iconography of the painting that illustrates the goddess’s benevolent yet captivating assertion of power by focusing on the gaze depicted in the portrait. Stylistically, the painting belongs to Maithili art. Historical background on the art style, including a brief biography of Baua Devi, will help explain the significance of Maithili art which has given female artists renewed identities and empowerment adding special elements of power to this painting.
The format of the painting—ink and color on paper—and its technical features, bring out the intensity of Kālī’s gaze focused straight at the viewer, lending an aspect of assertiveness. The painting depicts the face of the goddess colored in vibrant and saturated colors. The range of colors Devi uses is limited to a palette of white, black, and dark blue, filling most of the painting to depict the goddess’s skin. Meanwhile, the colors pink, red, and yellow are used as accent colors to bring out certain features like the outline of the goddess’s eyes and lips. Kālī’s features are made up of mostly thick and bold lines, except for the bindi/tikkā on her forehead, suggesting her third eye, elaborated with fine lines of black ink. The overall simplicity of this painting with bold strokes and a limited range of color, allows the viewer to easily focus on the essential aspect of strength in Kālī’s glare that Baua Devi portrays.
The iconography depicts the goddess lacking the typical visual features of Kālī and mainly focuses on the eyes and her benevolent assertion of power. Some elements of Kālī’s typical characteristics are portrayed in this painting, such as her deep black and blue skin, as well as her three eyes. However, the painting lacks a lot of other features associated with the goddess. Kālī is recognizable as a fearsome and destructive female deity, often visualized holding a sword and a severed head, wearing a garland of skulls and a skirt of arms, and with her tongue protruding and dripping blood.1 Baua Devi’s painting lacks these features and focuses only on the goddess’s face with no hint of ferocity. Her typical menacing appearance is replaced with a smile aimed toward the viewer. Normally, a scary portrayal of Kālī’s distinguishable characteristics is important as Kālī’s is known to lead people to liberation, moksa, allowing people to face their fear and the uncertainties of life, while enabling them to be conscious overcome realities.1 At the same time, Kālī still had benevolent elements with iconography of her right hand in a mudra hand gesture that grants boons and assures her people to not fear.1 Such shows how it is only the physical appearance of Kālī that might be unsettling, because Kālī is compassionate to those who worship her and grants them something beyond what this physical world can offer. And possibly, Baua Devi wanted to focus more on such a benign, yet still powerful aspect of the goddess.
Stylistic Composition of Mithila Art
As mentioned previously, the main stylistic composition of this painting is that this artwork is done in Maithili/Madhubani style. Not only the fact that this painting is done by Baua Devi, who is a renowned Maithili artist, there are detectable elements of the Maithili style painting such as bordering of the painting, and usage of bright natural pigmented colors. The artwork has a painted frame that borders around Kālī’s depicted face in a pink and yellow zigzag pattern. Such framing pattern is typical in a lot of Baua Devi’s work and that of many other Maithili artist. The bright colors of the painting can also be a clue to distinguish the work to be Maithili art, which appears to be done intentionally to maintain the original style of this art. In an interview with The Better India, a digital media platform covering popular news, Baua Devi emphasizes the importance of maintaining authenticity by keeping the traditional style of using twigs, fingers, and natural pigments of colors like black from charcoal, yellow from turmeric, white from rice, blue from indigo, and saffron from marigold.
History of Mithila Art
The history of Mithila art and its various associated artists—like Baua Devi—comes from an ancient cultural region of India, located in the Northeastern part of Bihar, made up of small rural villages.2 This art form originated from their wall art depicting images of various Indian epics of many deities in people’s personal homes. Such paintings were done by a particular practice known as Bhitti chitra where Maithili women painted on the walls and floors of their mud homes.3 It also served a common social purpose which is to summon gods to bless newly married couples with love and fertility.4 In the same interview with The Better India, Baua Devi also said, “According to the custom, all the women in the village gather during a wedding or a special occasion to draw complex geometric and linear patterns on the walls of the house. The art would usually be scenes from mythology and nature as symbols of love and prosperity.”2 This art was originally very personal, kept only as a regional cultural practice, and wasn’t known to a much greater public. Carolyn Brown Heinz, a professor of Anthropology at California State University Chico, noted on such seclusion of the art until a fateful event of earthquake in 1934 that hit the area and exposed many of the wall paintings to be seen by several people, including William Archer who was a young British official visiting the area to assess the damage.4 Archer was amazed at images of the vibrant colors of goddesses with various features of the deities like water lilies, snakes, and the sun in natural pigments painted in the interior of the houses. Sometime after, a drought in 1966 prompted an urgent need to improve the economy in the area. Chair of All-India Handicraft Board, Pupul Jayakar who was aware of beautiful images of Mithila’s wall art, sent an artist, Bhaskar Kulkarni to Madhubani (city in the Mithila region) to look for female artists of the Mithila to produce paintings on a paper, that could easily be sold. Baua Devi was one of many female artists who were recruited. Heinz highlights how such movement of the art from wall to paper as medium brought many changes to the region and its people. First, it fulfilled its main goal by bringing significant economic relief, especially in the impoverished area of Bihar. Mithila art also became known to a much wider public like tourists and foreigners, bringing a cultural awareness of Madhubani, a region previously rarely visited, which brought a significant change to the artists. Most of the well-known Maithili artists were women. These female artists, who used to make no profits from their art works, now became the main source of income to support their families. Being in a fairly patriarchal society, such an art movement empowered these women by allowing them to gain greater respect and support, and to contribute greatly to not just their families, but to the greater region of the location with its economic and cultural growth.
History of Baua Devi
Baua Devi was also one of the female artists who became successful after contributing to the transfer of Maithili art on paper. She was born in Jitwapur village in Bihar and was taught Maithili art as the usual tradition by her mother when she was 13.2 Her talent was discovered by Kulkarni, the artist sent to recruit Maithili artists, when she was 19 after her infant’s death and was suffering from a physically abusive husband. Kulkarni influenced her art to change from typical Maithili art form to a place where she can be expressive of her thoughts. He advised her to freely paint out of her imagination.3 Such teaching might explain the unconventional portrayal of this painting of Kali. However, his advice to the Mathila artists might have also influenced the deterrence of traditional aspects of Maithili art. Heinz also noted how one negative impact from the movement to paper was that the art might have lost its religious meanings in order to better cater towards foreigners who have no interest in knowing its significance.4 This raises concern about the authenticity of Maithili style art and that it only focuses on the elaborated and visually appealing aspect of the artwork to attract the public’s interest. However, Baua Devi’s artworks testify to how the artist still appreciates and maintains the traditional aspects of the art by continuing to portray Hindu deities and conserving traditional art technique methods like using natural dyes in her art work, while not being limited to add her personal identity through abstract elements as well. She is now an incredibly successful Maithili artist who is recognized all across the world. Devi has won many awards such as the National Award in 1984 and Padma Shri in 2017, and her work is sold in various countries across the globe like the United States, Spain, France, and Japan.5 With such success, this new form of Maithili art has given Devi a new identity and freedom in various aspects. She found the freedom to express her thoughts through her paintings, and to no longer be subjected to patriarchal bondage. Devi often discusses how she can’t choose her favorite painting because she views Madhubani painting as her identity and says, “All my paintings are amalgamations of customs, history, and love.”2 Her statement shows how she believes the Maithili paintings have given her a new identity that has connected her with history.
The artwork Kali made in ink and color on paper depicting the frontal profile of goddess Kālī lacks typical iconographic features to instead focus on the goddess’s intense gaze and benevolent yet dominant assertion of power. The Maithili style of painting, and Baua Devi’s own personal story together embodies the theme of female assertion of power. Kālī being the goddess with power of time, lives as the goddess to many from the ancient times of Vedic era to contemporary period among Maithili artists including Baua Devi.
– Ji In, University of Washington Student
1 Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott. Hindu goddesses: beliefs and practices. Sussex Academic, 2009. “Behind Painted Walls: The Story of Baua Devi & Mithila Painting.” Sarmaya, March 26, 2019.
2 “Painting Is My Everything: Art from India’s Mithila Region – Exhibitions – Asian Art Museum.” Asian Art Museum, May 4, 2020. https://exhibitions.asianart.org/exhibitions/painting-is-my-everything-art-from-indias-mit hila-region/.
3 Rinder, Lawrence. Baua Devi and the Art of Mithila. University of California Berkeley Art Museum, 1997. https://bampfa.org/program/baua-devi-and-art-mithila-matrix-175.
“When viewed from different vantage points, Tall Thin Head seems to be two distinct heads. From the front the head is narrow; the effect is like looking straight on at a knife edge. From the side, the profile is full-bodied and dramatically silhouetted, completely contradicting the frontal view.”
– Valerie Fletcher
Alberto Giacometti used a variety of artistic devices to disrupt the viewers’ interpretation of space. His 1954 portrait bust Tall Thin Head—or Grand tête mince—was just one of a series of busts made by the artist in the 1950s which played with scale, perspective, and texture. From the front, the sculpture looks flat and vague, but when viewed from the side, however, a detailed portrait emerges revealing the angular features of a male figure.
The sculpture, modeled after his brother, Diego Giacometti, falls into a familiar trend seen across Giacometti’s artistic career. Since the beginning of his artistic life, Giacometti preferred to work with those closes to him as models, especially Diego and his wife Annette. Sitting for him required long hours of concentration, and both his brother and wife also assisted with various aspects of managing his studio and career. For the artist, working with consistent models allowed him to better pursue his vision, unveiling the stranger beneath the familiar.
This audio recording marks the third stop in SAM’s free smartphone tour which accompanies Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure. Listen now to experience a close-looking art activity led by SAM educator and teaching artist Lauren Kent and tune in to all eight stops in the tour when you visit the exhibition at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.
Tall Thin Head, 1954
NARRATOR: Perspective can change everything in a sculpture, and that rings true especially for Giacometti’s later work. Here’s SAM educator Lauren Kent to guide you in a close looking activity for Tall Thin Head.
LAUREN KENT: As you approach Tall Thin Head, position yourself so that you are in front of the sculpture, looking at the face straight on. What do you see? What do you think about what you see? What do you wonder? Does this sculpture express an emotion or remind you of anything?
Slowly move about a foot in one direction around the sculpture, then stop. What do you notice now? What do you see that you didn’t before? What has changed?
Move another foot in a circle around the sculpture and stop once more. What do you notice here? What do you see now that you didn’t before? What has changed?
Continue moving in a full circle around the head. Observe how it expands and contracts. Observe all of the different ways that it looks and feels at each angle. You can keep an eye on Tall Thin Head as you walk through the rest of this gallery.
– Lily Hansen, Marketing Content Creator
1 Alberto Giacometti: 1901-1966, Valerie Fletcher, p.180.
The Seattle Times arts team helpfully gathered all the “ways to stretch your entertainment dollars in the Seattle area” with free or discounted tickets and events. They mention the free days at SAM’s three locations—Seattle Art Museum (First Thursday!), Seattle Asian Art Museum (Last Fridays!), and the Olympic Sculpture Park (365 days a year!)—as well as other hot tips for free or discounted admission. Now, go ART!
Though the exhibition was no longer on view when Savita Krishnamoorthy’s International Examiner review of Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time was published, it’s still very much worth a read. And you can still see Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s neon installation Kali (I’m a Mess) in the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s park lobby.
“We are witnessing an aspirational South Asianfuturism, dreaming of a world without war and human suffering.”
“‘You felt a sense of community in the fields because it was people talking your language, people hearing the kind of music you hear at home, people eating the foods you eat,’ [Exhibition subject Luz] Iniguez said. ‘It really felt like a community of people that were just working hard trying to make the most of a situation that was hard.’”
“‘I’m calling this the poetics of restitution, which is something I’m trying to explore in the work,’ Julien said in a telephone interview from London. ‘The debates that we’re having today that seem contemporaneous were happening 50 years ago, if not before. I think that’s really interesting.’”
At the dawn of world history God gives life to the first humans under a luminous pastel sky. This small panel, painted around 1510 by Renaissance artist Bartolomeo di Paolo, known as Fra Bartolomeo, is titled TheCreation of Eve and is currently on view in SAM’s European art galleries. While the religious content of this picture, based on the book of Genesis, would have been immediately recognizable to its prevalently Christian audience in 16th century Italy, the way Fra Bartolomeo chose to visualize this biblical story sheds light on Renaissance ideas around the role of women and the arts in early-modern western society that can still inspire us today.
At the center, Eve rises from the side of a sleeping Adam, reaching for support as she prepares to take her first step into the world. Her right hand is met by the Creator’s, who lifts and blesses her—his fluttering cloak and the motion of his feet indicating forward movement. His commanding presence contrast with her crouched pose and unstable balance, highlighting her suspended state of becoming. Scholars have termed this way of depicting Eve’s creation “emergence iconography” to stress the image’s departure from the Genesis text, where the first woman is said to have been modeled by God from a rib taken from Adam. The challenges to a naturalistic and efficient representation posed by that plot led artists to evolve this solution, which was interpreted most famously by Michelangelo in the Sistine ceiling just a few years before Fra Bartolomeo painted this picture.
In addition to emphasizing the corporeality of Eve’s body, softly modeled to accentuate the underlying structure of bones and muscles and imbued with the illusion of gravity, Fra Bartolomeo’s composition offers a visual translation of the first woman’s role as a companion and an equal to Adam that early Christian theologians had formulated in their interpretation of scriptures. They reflected on the fact that in Hebrew (the original language of Genesis) the term tsela used in the creation passage meant both “rib” and “side,” focusing on the latter translation to argue for the equality of man and woman, whose union they intended as the basic unit of human society.
This idea materializes in Fra Bartolomeo’s Creation of Eve, unique among Renaissance depictions of this popular subject matter for combining the creation episode with a group portrait of the first family (Adam, Eve, and their children Cain and Abel are featured in the middle ground) and a cityscape in the distance to signify the modern accomplishments of their descendants. Sixteenth-century Florence—where this picture was likely painted—was a city-state whose strong tradition of independent self-governance and artistic excellence were a point of civic pride for artists and patrons alike.
Here, the omission of the episode of The Fall that traditionally followed the creation of Eve in most Genesis cycles also suggests our artist’s intent to celebrate humanity’s achievements rather than emphasize the consequences of the first sin. In this respect, God’s physical hold on Eve’s hand may evoke the Renaissance trope of the artist as a divinely inspired creator, further exalting the intellectual potential of the visual arts.
While this picture offers a limited representation of humanity that reflects the ableist, heteronormative canons of its time, it also speaks to present-day concerns around bodily autonomy by reminding us of a time when Renaissance humanism affirmed confidence in the human potential to achieve greatness through free will, and in the dignity and beauty of the human body.
– Gloria de Liberali, SAM Guest Contributor & Art History Ph.D
Alberto Giacometti’s vision of a new human form was heavily inspired by Cycladic, African, and ancient Egyptian art. In 1927, the artist purchased a sculpture from Gabon—then one of France’s colonies in West Africa—and placed it in the center of his studio. Giacometti studied such non-European works in the Parisian museums he visited, where he found himself fascinated by African sculptures that emphasized volumes and geometric voids.
Giacometti and many of his artistic peers greatly admired such artworks for their unique power and approaches to stylized form, which they thought offered visionary and radical alternatives to European academic models of representation. This admiration for non-European art’s visual power was at times marked by a lack of knowledge about the origins of works brought from the colonies to the West. Giacometti may not have known, for example, that the figure he owned once guarded sacred remains of the Kota people of Gabon. In Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure, African sculptures from SAM’s private collection—including this early 20th century Reliquary Figure from Kota, Gabon—are placed alongside Giacometti’s bronze and plaster sculptures to illustrate the Giacometti’s fascination with the structure and composition of ancient African artworks.
Listen to SAM Curator of African and Oceanic Art Pam McClusky discuss the influence of artworks such as Reliquary Figure on Alberto Giacometti’s artistic development in this audio recording from SAM’s free smartphone tour of Toward the Ultimate Figure. Discover all eight recordings when you visit the exhibition at SAM’s downtown location through October 9.
Reliquary Figure, early 20th century
NARRATOR: Like many European artists living and working in Paris in the 20th century, Giacometti found inspiration in works of African sculpture. Here’s curator of African and Oceanic Art Pam McClusky on this Reliquary Figure from SAM’s collection.
PAM MCCLUSKY: Giacometti sits with a sculpture like this in his studio, as can be seen in a photo nearby. It served as a mysterious muse that transforms a face and body into dynamic forms coated with a flashing metal surface. It offered a bold fresh vision of a very strong archetype. Giacometti bought his sculpture, similar to the one in front of you, from a fellow artist in 1927, and no doubt they talked about how its inventive geometric shapes replaced anatomical correctness. Yet, what they saw was not what the Kota intended. In its original setting, this figure stood guard over a bundle of sacred ancestral remains. The reflective face was meant to draw attention to their presence and repel any harm to them. Giacometti gave this unknown agitator a place of honor, and drew inspiration from it for his own reframing of the human body.
– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator
Image: Reliquary Figure, 20th century, Wood, copper and brass, 23 3/4 × 11 1/2 × 2 1/4 in. (60.3 × 29.2 × 5.7cm), Gift of Dr. Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb, 2014.3, photo: L. Fried.
“The beauty of the museum is that it allows for interesting juxtapositions of artworks against architecture from the 1930s, and the ability to move works already on view into different configurations to satisfy new goals.”
Crosscut’s Brangien Davis also featured the “compact but compelling” new exhibition, which is just one show on view now in Seattle about people’s relationship to nature. (Margo Vansynghel also blurbed the show for their August things to do list.)
“Sit for a spell as the black-and-white images emerge slowly from the mist. Squint and you’ll start to see jagged mountains appear—but look even closer, and you’ll notice that these monoliths are made from so many skyscrapers. A rushing waterfall proves to be a highway packed with cars. Those trees? Construction cranes. The artist created these astonishing works by combining thousands of photographs and videos from megacities, thereby painting a natural landscape from man-made ambition.”
You don’t want to miss the triumphant return of SAM Remix, the 21+ after-hours art experience, held at the Olympic Sculpture Park on Friday, August 26. Curiocity fills you in on the details.
“I like to go head back up the incline and into the SAM park that zig-zags over the train tracks and street to that big orange structure with the orange chairs – another great place to rest in the shade, adjust your playlist or take out a sketch pad for a while before heading back into Belltown and home again.”
“Bruce Lee could blast a man backwards with one punch, but his identity as an intellectual and voracious reader was far less known. ‘You think of Bruce Lee as a martial artist and as an actor, but you don’t necessarily think of him as a philosopher,’ says Jessica Rubenacker, exhibit director of Wing Luke Museum.”
“Guston makes the imagery more visually striking by sticking strictly to variations on red and blue; the bluntness and obtuseness of its iconography is compellingly mysterious, as disembodied fingers, pointing hands, and crude painter’s canvas float monumentally but awkwardly around each other in space. Its painterly surface is tinged with naiveté. What a rare pleasure to see his painting up close.”
As the wind picks up at the Olympic Sculpture Park, American artist George Rickey’s Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III (1973) uses the natural elements to transform from a still sculpture to a mesmerizing experiment in movement, allowing us to consider how that movement can in turn create its own forms.
Rickey’s kinetic sculptures come from an amalgamation of life experiences and technical skills. He was born on June 6, 1907 in South Bend, Indiana; his father was an engineer, setting the stage for the technical foundation that would become a pertinent aspect of his future work. Rickey went on to temporarily reject engineering to study history and eventually art, becoming a history teacher and painter. During and after World War II, he was majorly influenced by the work of Alexander Calder, Naum Gabo, and David Smith among others.
During the 1970s, Rickey began using flat planes in his kinetic sculptures, burnishing the stainless steel planes in order to create luminosity. He rejected motorized mechanics; instead the planes are able to create motion through the combination of weight, design, and ball bearings inside of the bearing housing. The laws of physics and the unpredictability of the natural world are his tools of choice.
Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III is inspected and treated annually by SAM’s conservation department to ensure that Rickey’s vision remains in motion at the sculpture park. In 2022, the sculpture was cleaned, examined for stability, spot treated to maintain an even and uncorroded exterior, and the access panels were opened up to inspect the stability of the rods and bearings. The sculptures at the Olympic Sculpture Park, including Rickey’s, require constant care to withstand weather, constant movement, and exposure to the Puget Sound’s salty water.
As a part of my Emerging Arts Leader Internship in conservation, I am working alongside SAM conservators to examine, record, and treat a number of SAM collection works, focusing specifically on the outdoor sculptures in the Olympic Sculpture Park. It is very special to have the opportunity to work directly with sculptures that I have spent years studying or admiring. I’m glad to have contributed directly to the preservation and future enjoyment of modern and contemporary public art.
– Rosa Sittig-Bell, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern
Although Alberto Giacometti may be most remembered for his delicate yet commanding bronze sculptures and busts, his artistic career began with vibrant watercolor paintings and drawings that capture the mountainous landscape of Giacometti’s home in Stampa, Switzerland. Scenes from the village and dramatic views of the surrounding mountains are depicted in his early paintings which draw inspiration from his father, Giovanni Giacometti, a celebrated post-impressionist painter.
In The Mountain Road (ca. 1919), a thin, lavender road marks the entry point to a large, mountainous landscape. On the left, dark green trees line the road, while on the right, a telephone lines follow the road. Colors of blue, pink, red, and yellow complete the painting, depicting a segment of the Swiss Alps on a summer day. Placed beside one another, watercolor paintings such as The Mountain Road offer a striking departure from the gothic sculptures which defined his later career and illustrate Giacometti’s development as a postwar era artist.
In this audio recording, Erika Katayama, SAM Associate Director of Interpretation, discusses Giacometti’s early artistic inspirations in Switzerland and the influence of his famous father in his artistic development. Tune in to all eight recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figurewhen you visit the exhibition at our downtown location through October 9.
The Mountain Road, ca 1919
ALBERTO GIACOMETTI: “I could spend every day looking at the same garden, the same trees, and the same backdrop.”
NARRATOR: Alberto Giacometti was talking about the views of his small town of Stampa, Switzerland, where he grew up surrounded by towering mountains and trees. It was there that he began his journey as an artist. Associate Director of Interpretation Erika Katayama:
ERIKA KATAYAMA: So Giacometti came from a family of artists, and his early works like this watercolor landscape, are reminiscent of the style of his father Giovanni, who was a post-impressionist painter. Alberto loved his hometown of Stampa Switzerland, and although he moved to Paris in the 1920s, he came back to visit throughout his life, drawing inspiration from the alpine landscape and channeling it into the shapes and textures of his sculptures.
“What’s up with all these rabbits everywhere?” asks Brendan Kiley for the Seattle Times’ Pacific NW Magazine. For the story, he met up with Bobby McCullough, Facilities and Landscape Manager at the Olympic Sculpture Park, to go in search of King Bunny, a resident bunny who may be responsible for a good number of the 500+ rabbits who make the sculpture park their home. P.S. Check out our video series Botany with Bobby for more stories from the park.
Crosscut’s Black Arts Legacies project, which launched in June, is still delivering. Here, project editor Jasmine Mahmoud writes about singer Ernestine Anderson, who had a voice like “honey at dusk.”
“Ernestine was jazz and blues personified — she musically participated in both worlds,” daughter [Shelley] Young says of her mother’s musical impact. “Singing the blues involves storytelling,” she continues, “and she loved telling a story.”
“[Former Seattle SuperSonic Spencer] Haywood said in an interview on Sunday that he and Russell would often dine at a Seattle restaurant called 13 Coins after road trips, and Russell would regale him with stories about the civil rights movement.”
“…Giacometti’s subject matter was actually the matter of subjectivity: How each one of us, as an individual, relates to the world around us and acts within it. For decades, Giacometti focused on rendering the human body in order to reveal—or discover—something about the human condition, very often his own.”
“The call for art and its cancellation have spawned so many responses and comments elsewhere on the social media app—both in support of and against—that it can be dizzying to track. The comments reveal the pain of a struggling art community, as well as deep fissures in how artists and art advocates think the sector should engage with criticism, tech and philanthropy.”
Tlingit and Unangax̂ artist Nicholas Galanin is also creating a new work for American Art: The Stories We Carry that will debut in 2023 at SAM; here’s his recent New York gallery show reviewed by the New York Times.
“‘I would stand up for that flag,’ an artist commented on a social media post featuring a photo of Nicholas Galanin’s ‘White Flag’ (2022), a sculpture with a polar bear rug mounted on a rough wooden staff. At a time when flags representing nations and political causes feel particularly fraught, ‘White Flag,’ in Galanin’s exhibition ‘It Flows Through’ at Peter Blum, feels poignant.”
When a male colleague coined “so good it could have been made by a man” as a shiny new art-descriptor, artists Dawn Cerny and Victoria Haven weren’t so keen on its uptake.
Cerny and Haven met in Seattle in 2012, when Haven was working on a show at SAM on view concurrent with ELLES: Women from the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Cerny had expertise in printmaking, and Haven had a story to share: at the show’s opening event, a male painter they both knew told her not only that her work was “so good it could have been made by a man,” but “that he was mystified (with a tinge of pity) that it had been relegated to a show of work by women.”
The comment prompted the pair to collaborate, under the witty moniker DAFT KUNTZ, to reframe his words (both literally and figuratively). Without adding their own commentary, the artists ask us to consider: Should we interpret it as an underhanded compliment or a reminder that artistic and intellectual achievement is still measured by male accomplishments?
Perhaps the two are not mutually exclusive. SO GOOD IT COULD HAVE BEEN shares a certain arresting visual quality with the iconic Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into The Met. Museum? 1989 poster by the Guerilla Girls (the data for which has since been updated and is, spoiler alert, just as abysmal). The works are conceptually similar in their use of jarring statements that force the viewer to reflect on social structures, presented with bold text and graphic imagery. A component of Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met? that is often overlooked, however, is one essential word: modern. It was not the case that 5% of all of the art in the Met Museum in 1989 was created by women, rather, only 5% of the art in the galleries of modern art was created by women. A common refrain in response to criticisms of male hegemony is the classic “it was a different time,” and “that was then, this is now.” It may be true that the times they are a-changing, but Cerny and Haven remind us that we still have a ways to go.
“We all know the [women] artists that most people are able to list off automatically, right? The list usually goes a little something like…Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Lange, etc. And they are all fantastic women artists worthy of such recognition! But there’s so many more out there. Our goal at SAM is to share a wider range of women that may not be as well known, including women of color and more contemporary artists, all from our collection.“
Relegating the exclusion of women to the past both excuses the history of male superiority in art and minimizes the exclusionary tactics that contemporary women artists face. SO GOOD IT COULD HAVE BEEN admonishes the very present imbalance and asserts a new way forward. The top text, “so good it could have been,” is hopeful and earnest. “Made by a man” is tacked on below like an official stamp; it’s a dark cloud, a swift gut punch expelling the air from once hopeful lungs. But it’s a necessary evil, because only by understanding the imbalance can we move toward a future where women artists are celebrated without being measured by male accomplishments. And perhaps, if we’re lucky, even be let into the Met fully clothed.
SO GOOD IT COULD HAVE BEEN is notable in another way: it is a collaboration between two past winners of the SAM’s annual Betty Bowen Award, an unrestricted cash prize for a Northwest artist to further their career. Dawn Cerny and Victoria Haven are both previous Grand Prize recipients of the Betty Bowen Award: Haven was awarded the prize in 2004, the two artists came together to create SO GOOD IT COULD HAVE BEEN in 2015, and Cerny went on to win the Grand Prize in 2020.
So who will be next? The 2022 Betty Bowen Award is currently open for applications through Monday, August 1 at 11 pm PST. The winner receives an unrestricted cash prize of $15,000 and a solo exhibition at SAM. For more information and to see a list of past winners, please visit visitsam.org/bettybowen or email email@example.com.
– Johnna Munsen, Betty Bowen Award Administration Intern
Image: SO GOOD IT COULD HAVE BEEN, 2012, DAFT KUNTZ, Collaboration between Victoria Haven and Dawn Cerny, silkscreen on paper, 33 1/2 × 26 in. Gift of Matthew Offenbacher and Jennifer Nemhauser with funds from the 2013 Neddy Award in Painting, 2015.2.1.
Indigenous Matrix: Northwest Women Printmakers, now on view through December 11 in SAM’s third floor galleries, was a year-long journey, the culmination of my thesis project for the University of Washington Museology masters program. Overseen by Barbara Brotherton, Curator of Native American Art at SAM, and Kathryn Bunn-Marcuse, Curator of Northwest Native Art at the Burke Museum, the curation process involved many hours of reflecting on and researching how Indigenous women artists are represented within museums. Western museological practices have on the whole lacked recognition of the importance of women within Indigenous communities, but women have always been a driving force of their creative practices and creations.
I came to this topic because I am Seneca, an Indigenous Nation located in Western New York. Growing up, I was immersed in the creative expressions of my people and was taught the importance of artistic freedoms and legacies. It was not until I graduated high school that I started putting together the pieces of how our artworks carry our stories and culture, aiding in the revitalization and celebration of who we are. Coming into the museological field, my goal is to highlight and promote Indigenous culture through the arts. With great thanks, that is what I was able to accomplish working with SAM over the past year to curate this exhibition.
For the exhibition, I selected works by Pitseolak Ashoona, Francis Dick, Myra Kukiiyuat, Jesse Oonark, Susan Point, and Angotigolu Teevee. Our women have continued to drive many aspects of life for Indigenous communities across the world, yet only in recent years have we seen museums and galleries approach working with a feminized view of Native arts. The purpose of this exhibition is to create a learning environment conducive to promoting woman-centered Indigenous narratives and to educate the public on histories and cultures that they may have yet to encounter. Bringing contemporary Indigenous art into an institutional setting helps reframe harmful historical narratives and highlights Native women’s current lived experiences through research that is informed by traditional knowledge and community revitalization efforts.
With this exhibition, I hope to impact the future of Indigenous peoples who work and exhibit within museums and more specifically, art institutions. This work breaks down some of the barriers that many Native peoples face when working with art institutions. As the first exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum to be curated by an Indigenous female-identifying student, Indigenous Matrix is a small—but significant—step in creating more institutional accessibility for emerging museum professionals and Indigenous curators.
– Kari Karsten, SAM Emerging Museum Professional Curatorial Intern
Seattle Met’s “Things to Do in Seattle” includes a recommendation for Summer at SAM at the Olympic Sculpture Park, noting that “live music, hands-on arts and crafts, and food truck meals define summer nights at the waterfront park.” Join us every Thursday night and Saturday morning for all the free fun.
The Stranger may no longer have their legendary print covers, but art director Corianton Hale is back thanks to their new web design, which includes an “artist of the week” to explore. Here’s his chat with Janet Politte, whose work is included in the Photographic Center Northwest’s thesis exhibition.
The (other) big Seattle art world news this week: The Seattle Art Fair takes place July 21–24 at the Lumen Field Event Center. The Seattle Times’ Jerald Pierce gives you a peek into the fair’s triumphant return under its new organizer, Art Market Productions. SAM is thrilled to be the fair’s beneficiary partner—drop by our booth to learn about the latest SAM and SAM Gallery happenings!
“Gallery owner Judith Rinehart knows that attending an art fair may fall outside of some people’s comfort zones, but she encourages folks to take that leap. ‘I think there’s this myth that you have to have a robust arts education to engage with artwork,’ Rinehart said. ‘You don’t.’”
“All museums need to look honestly at their own practices of exclusion and what enabled them, from governance structure, to hiring practices, to opaque decision making, and be up front about them so the entire field can begin to act as true cultural stewards and meet the broad call for change.”
“Few visual artists have become as synonymous with existentialism as Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966), sculptor of slender anguish… At SAM, photographs of the artist in his studio (by photographers like Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Gordon Parks) accompany dozens of Giacometti’s paintings and sculptures. Among a thicket of his elongated bronze sculptures and busts, expect some of his greatest hits, such as ‘The Nose,’ a bronze depicting a tormented Pinocchio-from-your-nightmares stuck in a cage, or the iconic, life-sized ‘Walking Man I.’”
“‘The park has been an amazing resource for the last two years helping people cope with everything that’s going on by just having some green space and some respite and a space to retreat to,’ Rutherford said. ‘One of the things that we really wanted to focus on as we come back into in-person programs is bringing the piece that’s been missing from the last two years from the park — and that is community.’”
Here’s Brittni Williams for Travel Noire with recommendations for “one day in Seattle,” including the Olympic Sculpture Park and its “spectacular, contemporary sculptures that are a treat to capture in photos.”
Here’s KEXP’s announcement of Ethan Raup as the music organization’s next President and CEO, succeeding longtime CEO Tom Mara. SAM’s music-loving Chief Financial Officer, Cindy Bolton, serves as a KEXP board member and helped select Raup for the position.
“These abstract paintings are both radically different from his later collages and full of foreshadowing, holding hints of Bearden’s compositional virtuosity and material experimentation. This exhibition sets out to prove a point and it does so brilliantly: These paintings were fundamentally important to Bearden’s development as a collage artist.”
“The show considers how female painters, photographers, and sculptors, drawn to Paris from near and far, navigated the era’s tensions, finding ways to insert themselves into a still male-dominated art world and proclaim their right to self-determination.”
The museum held its annual summer fundraiser this past Friday at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Artists, makers, chefs, musicians, performers, supporters, and more all came together to have a blast while raising funds for the museum’s artistic and educational programs. Seattle Refined was there to capture all the magic in this sun-drenched photo slideshow.
“These tales of friendships and affiliations create a subversive dimension of art history, and they are also a testament to the adamant question from political activist and organizer Ella Baker: ‘Now, who are your people?’”
The Seattle Times’ Jerald Pierce speaks with Anastacia-Reneé as the celebrated writer prepares to leave Seattle after 15 years for a new adventure in New York City.
“Whether you are a seasoned Afro-space traveler or new to “astro-Blackness,” the artworks exhibited at MoPOP and MoM offer an intriguing and interstellar voyage into Afrofuturism and beyond.”
“This is like a Jenny Holzer installation or something right”: Artnet’s Dorian Batycka reports on last week’s news from the US Supreme Court, sharing how the art world responded to the Court overturning people’s constitutional right to an abortion in the United States.
“If design is a window on the culture, perhaps there is nothing more revealing than the Curtain of Courage Memorial unveiled last week in San Bernardino, Calif., a sculptural ribbon of patterned bronze and steel meant to enfold the Mendozas, Meinses and Johnsons, among the families who lost 14 loved ones killed in a mass shooting in 2015, in its sinuous communal embrace.”